It’s looking, at the moment, as if cars might still be allowed to drive to the front of the Bank of Ireland building on College Green – right across the proposed “pedestrianised” plaza.
The plans for the civic space provide for a large stretch of open space for those on foot, spreading from the corner of Grafton Street right up to Anglesea Street.
But the plans will allow vehicles to access the front of the Bank of Ireland building, according to a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” says Fine Gael Councillor Anne Feeney.
The bank should give up its motor-vehicle access altogether, or at least accommodate its vehicle-borne customers at another entrance to the building, rather than at the one on College Green, Feeney says.
A spokesperson for the Bank of Ireland says it has asked to maintain access for vehicles to its College Green entrance so that customers with disabilities can still use the front door.
However, representatives from the National Council for the Blind of Ireland and the Disability Federation of Ireland say they have not pushed for this access to be maintained, and haven’t heard of any other kindred organisation that had done so either.
“We’d much prefer if there were no cars at all,” says Gerry Kerry of the NCBI.
At the moment, there is a piazza area in front of the grand old building, where customers can drive in and park to do business.
The bank spokesperson didn’t say whether it has asked that other customers, too, be allowed to drive through the proposed pedestrianised plaza to access the front door.
The front piazza and the building itself are, at times, used for state functions, the spokesperson said. “At times like this vehicular access to the front of College Green would be important for set up and servicing,” she said, by email.
Fine Gael’s Feeney – who used to work at Bank of Ireland on College Green – is sceptical about the arrangement.
She says she suspects the bank simply wants to maintain its right of way across the new plaza. Other businesses on Dame Street will also be affected by the pedestrianisation, she pointed out.
And the bank could accommodate customers in cars at other entrances, such as the one on Foster Place.
The front piazza is right next to the main sprawl of the plaza, so “it beggars belief” that cars would be allowed through there, says Feeney.
Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe says that the council, so far, has used the carrot rather than the stick in its discussions with the bank.
He says he hopes the bank will abandon plans to keep their front entrance accessible to vehicles. “It would be plain silly to have a pedestrianised plaza that allows cars in and out.”
Cuffe says “it’s quite extraordinary in this day and age” that customers can still drive up to the front of the old parliament building.
It’s understandable that the bank, which owns the building, wants to be able to accommodate disabled customers under the plaza scheme, says Cuffe. But at the front entrance?
“That’s an appalling lack of vision,” he says. “They can, of course, happily get access from other sides and that’s not even considering the potential access they’d have from Temple Bar itself.”
As it stands, because property rights are so strong in Irish law, says Cuffe, the council doesn’t have powers to stop this.
Bank of Ireland didn’t respond to follow up queries as to whether it has looked at whether other entrances could allow for easy access for customers with disabilities in cars.
According to the council spokesperson, the council is due to have further discussions with the bank about the management and control of the front piazza, in light of the plaza plans.
Earlier this month, An Bord Pleanála cancelled an oral hearing on the plaza plans, and no new date has yet been set for this hearing.
Until that happens, “it would be inappropriate for us to comment any further”, said the spokesperson.
Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey says that no cars should be allowed to drive through the pedestrianised plaza and up to the front entrance of the bank.
He says he is submitting a motion at the council’s next traffic committee meeting to examine the issues around disabled access. This could involve installing electric wheelchair stations – something similar to DublinBikes stations – for elderly or disabled citizens, says Lacey.
Gerry Kerry, a director on the board of Fighting Blindness and a service-user representative with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, says he is not aware of any disability groups pushing for continued disabled access to the bank.
“I can understand, maybe, the cash in transit vans going in but there is nobody from a disability lobby that would be asking for access through there,” says Kerr.
Wheelchair users and those with disabilities could enter through the plaza, says Kerr.
Disability Federation of Ireland Chief Executive Officer John Dolan said the issue hadn’t come across his desk yet.
Labour’s Lacey says he’s sceptical that the bank will only maintain vehicular access for customers with disabilities once the plaza is complete.
“I would be more than happy if An Bord Pleanála took car access to the bank out of the final decision,” he says.
Like others, Lacey also believes the old parliament building should no longer be a bank branch.
Back to the Public
That’s something Fine Gael’s Feeney plans to push forward in the coming months through a motion that has been pending since late last year.
She says she hopes the council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, will enter into discussions with Bank of Ireland, to try to get the building back into state ownership.
Others, such as Sinn Féin Councillor Greg Kelly and Labour’s Lacey, also say the old parliament building should be back in public hands.
“It’s right in the heart of the city,” says Kelly. “The way it’s being used is terrible.”
There have been calls from other councillors in the past – in particular, from Fine Gael’s Kieran Binchy – to remove the railings at the bank’s front entrance, opening the front piazza up to the public, too.
That is not being proposed, however, according to the council spokesperson.